Recipe: Pearl barley with broad beans, dill & dried cherries
There were some kitchen tasks we always did outdoors when I visited my grandmother in Kentucky during the summer. Shucking corn was one of them. We’d sit on the back steps outside her kitchen armed with large brown paper bags – the kind they used to use in grocery stores – and strip the leaves and silk and toss them in the bag. Stringing beans was another. We’d snap the top off the bean, pull the thin string off and put the beans in a colander ready to cook.
There’s something meditative about repetitive cooking tasks. Less so if you’ve got guests coming in 10 minutes, granted. It invites you to slow down a bit and not think or worry or do anything except what you’re doing.
I get the same feeling when I’ve got a pile of broad beans in front of me. Broad beans are nothing if not repetitive. Like a green bean, you snap the top off, but then you ease your finger into the seam and prise it open. It never ceases to amaze me how the beans are nestled inside like jewels in a velvet lined case. Pop the beans out and pick up the next bean and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
Even then you’re not done. You blanch them – just till tender – then slit the pale outer skin to release the bean. Some people leave the skin on very small beans but I’m not a fan. They’re a bit wrinkly looking and besides, they hide the vibrant green of the bean itself. It takes a bit more time but there’s a rhythm to it that’s quite relaxing.
When choosing broad beans, ignore the ones with very large, bulging beans and those that look like they contain very tiny ones. The large beans tend to be a bit tough while the small ones are too small to be worth the trouble.
Julia’s latest dish is topped with delicious dried cherries
I used dried cherries in this recipe which are lovely – sweet and tart at the same time. But if you can’t find them you could substitute dried cranberries instead. I also use pomegranate vinegar which is made by pressing and fermenting pomegranate seeds. The result is a vinegar with a fresh taste that is a good partner for sweet and sour flavours, complementing the dried fruit nicely. Again, if you can’t find it you could use a wine or sherry vinegar instead.
200g pearl barley, rinsed
425-450g fresh broad bean pods (yielding about 150g of beans)
70g dried cherries
Small bunch of dill, chopped
2 tbsp pomegranate vinegar
5-6 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper
Place the barley in a pan filled with water and simmer for about 15-20 minutes until cooked but still al dente. While the barley is cooking, make the dressing. Whisk together the pomegranate vinegar with 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl. Taste – if it’s too sour for your liking then add a bit more olive oil but remember you want a bit of sharpness to lift the salad. Season with salt and pepper. When the barley is cooked, drain thoroughly and place in a bowl. Toss with half the dressing and add the cherries. Set this aside to let the flavours marry.
Bring a pan of water to the boil. While it’s heating up, remove the broad beans from the pods. Add salt to the boiling water and put the beans in the pan. Boil for a few minutes until the beans are cooked but still have a bit of bite. You’ll want to test one to make sure. Drain and refresh under very cold water. Peel off and discard the pale green outer skin of the bean.
Add the beans and chopped dill to the barley and give it a stir. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper as needed. Place on a serving dish or bowl and drizzle with the remaining dressing.